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Learn about UDL

In this section you will be introduced to universal design for learning, or UDL as it is commonly referred.

The concept of Universal Design originated in the field of architecture, with the goal of creating places and things that were accessible to as many people as possible. For example, curb cuts were originally designed to enable people with wheelchairs to move more smoothly about their community. Yet, as we know, curb cuts not only accomplished that, but also improved access for people with strollers, bikes, and skateboards. Hence, the term “universal.”

In a sense, Universal Design for Learning is a curb cut for the classroom. That is, UDL is an approach to designing educational environments and products so they can be used by the widest range of students without adaptation. This flexible design of curriculum anticipates the full range of diversity found in American classrooms and puts supports in place before they are needed. With flexible curriculum, all students can succeed.

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FEMALE:  If you are an Orange North, you are going to Writing Center.  Writing Center kids, you will find paper with lines, you will find plain paper, all the stamps and markers are at choice, everything you can find in the tubs will be your choices for writing center today.  When you are finished those papers will go home with you in your mailbox.  Orange South kids, you are doing Razz Kids on the computers.  Please wear your headphones so you don’t disturb the other children and you will read your books after you log in.

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(Male teacher 1) How my thoughts and have changed over time with the implementation of UDL. It was quite a shock to see the first of all the overwhelmness or overwhelmingness of the whole UDL concept. It didn't quite make sense to me at first but then it was a light bulb moment that switched and noticed it wasn't a overhaul of my lesson plans but it was something that I could just add into it and kind of blend in with what I currently do so it really helped me and my students see that was a different way to show what they know and how they learn.

(Male Teacher 2) UDL was working because the teachers here have boughten into it and they have put it into practice. They give a lot of different options in the classroom. Um but it is also is working because the students aren’t just passive listeners they are active participants in the learning process now. They have lots of different options Um as far as learning the material they can learn it through the auditory channel learn it visually more many other ways through technology and they can also be assessed or showed their knowledge in many different ways also um they can still use the paper pencil test that they want to or they can maybe show their knowledge through a technology maybe a Prezi Presentation or PowerPoint or many other online tools that they could use the show the knowledge they have learned through the lesson.

(Female Teacher 1) If I could have the perfect UDL classroom it would look and feel I’m going to address feel first. It would feel easy-going it would feel comfortable I wouldn't feel stressed the students wouldn’t feel stressed um I think if looking like my students would be actively engaged in learning um they may be up out of their seat, they may be sitting down. I'm going to be able to be up out of my seat doing things. Um the students are going to be using technology I'm going to be using technology. Um I think the biggest thing is I want my students to be engaged in learning I want to be able to see them presenting to me multiple ways that they know the information and then they are also using those choices so if I give them several choices they are not doing the same thing every time they're making choices also trying new things and then also I want them to be able to give me feedback so I can change things that are not working as well.

(Female Teacher 1) Constructive criticism.  Now my Boss comes in and watches me and observes me and says change this or change this or change this or a student says you know you haven’t done this or can you try it this way?  I'm the teacher why are you telling me but I say oh I didn’t think of it that way yea lets try it that way instead of taking it to heart I’m saying oh that's a new idea let's try and see if it works and that's really hard for teacher to say let's try it and see if it works compared to I'm the teacher and I know what's going on and have my boss come in and it's not going on my permanent evaluation but have her come in and say try this or try that. It’s made a huge difference.

(Teacher 2) The other thing that I think that we have realized is when someone comes into our room that isn’t familiar with our subject and gives us feedback it helps because then our kids you know they don’t know the subject we know it, and so when we get some feedback from someone who doesn’t know the lesson then and and can say I didn’t really understand how this is going to work. You know that has really helped us.

(Teacher 1) Mrs. Cameron and I talked today. She said okay the students aren’t getting this and so I said okay start at the start of the unit. Go through everything you do then I’m able to say have you tried this? Or what about this? Have you done this? And then she is able to then take it in and say, oh well let me try this the next time and see if that works and maybe I’ll get another set of kids the five or six out of this class now I’ve got three-fourths of the class that know and understand it. So just to sit at cafeteria duty or whatever and bounce ideas off each other is a huge deal.  Let alone being able to have some time in a classroom where we have the day off to set in a room and bounce ideas off of each other. That was that was essential at the start. When we started UDL.

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MALE:  The students, from what we have seen, ah, achieve faster and more because, ah, teachers can work with individuals in small groups, rather than a large group.  And they can pin point their instruction to individuals.  Um, so if a student has a specific math or reading need, ah, the teacher can direct instruction and, ah, activities to that student so that those specific needs are met.  Um, we haven’t done it long enough to see any results with testing it at all yet.  Um, but the teachers are confident that they can see growth happening in leaps and bounds with that attention to personal need of the, of the students.  Ah, and–and it’s - it’s a great thing.  Ah, my role is to support teachers by giving them time to collaborate, encouraging their planning, giving them money and resources for the things, ah, they need, like materials, equipment, ah, things they need.  Ah, encouraging them to, um, for the pursue things.

FEMALE:  Perfect UDL School would be a school where the teachers have time to work together to collaborate, to say, I’m working on this student, but I just can’t figure out the best way to do this.  And another teacher can come in, maybe a special education teacher can partner with them, and to brainstorm ideas on the best ways for students to learn.  And–and the best ways is plural because there are so many different methods or options for kids.  And we found that options is really an important word here with UDL.  There have to be different options when you provide the information, different options for students to show you that they’ve learned the information.  And that all takes time.  So time is essential and time to work together, time for the kids to figure out what is their best method, what works best for them.  Going through the whole UDL and doing it as a pilot and taking a whole day to sit together and–and figure stuff out as a professional day here in house, that the teachers… they–they took down their barriers and they talked to each other and it really has transformed the whole science department, it’s amazing.  It’s really value having that choice because then they feel like they’ve got a part in their education and they’re going to put forth a little more effort because they got to decide which way they were going to do it.

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Express what you know

So how did that oral test work?

For example, we had the muscle test and the bone test. You could do it either with oral testing, which you would go in their back room and there would be a skeleton there. And you could either point at every bone in the body and tell what it was, or you point to yourself. Or you could do it like a normal test on pen and paper.

Which one did you choose?



Just because I can concentrate better that way. And that way, I was able to look at the skeleton and look at things and really think to myself, this is scapula. Instead of on a piece of paper where sometimes it's like you just get-- I think sometimes testing, I'm a prime example, I get very stressed out when it comes to testing. And I think the oral testing made it a lot-- not so nerve-wracking, and I was able to just relax and do it.

Instead of on paper, I feel like I'm timed. I feel like--

So giving you a choice made a big difference.


How did it affect you? Did it affect your grades?

Oh, yeah. I had the highest grade in that class all year long.

So your grade, you said would hurt. Like in previous science classes, you really enjoyed the content, but maybe you didn't do too well?


So you had the highest grade in that class. So what you think was the reason got a better grade with Mrs. Weber than you might have with your other teachers?

I think just the way-- I think she was one of those-- like for example, how we all called her Mother Hen. Because I think she just made us really want to try harder. And that made me try even harder and really study. And especially with the different choices of the review. A lot of classes you just do the review, turn it in, hopefully get some extra credit. But the way how I did it with the quizlet. I did all my reviews on quizlet, and that way I could play the games on quizlet.

I could review that way. And that way, I knew what I was doing for the test instead of it just being on a piece of paper.

Very good. You had a project that I remember--

The cake.

Yeah. The cake. Tell me about this cake. What was that about, and how did you choose a cake? We a project. It was the integumentary system. And anything you wanted, you could make, do, whatever. It was a poster, cake, anything. And what I did was me and a friend of mine, she had graduated a couple years ago, had to do the same project. So she helped me kind of with the picture. And we used all different frostings. We even used spray can stuff, sprinkles and little things to literally make a diagram of the integumentary system on the cake.

And that was a really great learning experience. Because that honestly was the hardest part in that class, was the integumentary system, because I just struggled to remember all the different layers and sub-layers. So that project helped me learn more in depth about it, instead of-- that was just another way of hands on learning that I'm better at.

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Pick one chapter. Just one. And figure out what to do with it. The one that doesn't work-- Just try it.

Just the one that doesn't work. Pick it and see what you can do with it.

Not the whole class.
And it's not every single lesson. It could be just one thing. One lesson in that unit.

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I think my hardest thing was letting go of control. I'm a type A person and I want you to do it my way. My way isn't always the best. So changing that up and letting them have a little bit more say in it.
It's very hard.

It was learning for me. It is. It is. Absolutely.

On that topic, in math, we have to teach them like different methods to solve, let's say, like a quadratic or something. And so I've been kind of testing them over the four different methods and they're, do I have to use that method still? I'm still, like you said, working on losing that control but it is in our standards that I have to show them different ways. But I did make a note on my tests for next year to group them all together and say method of your choice as opposed to specifying which method they have to use to solve it, and just break it more open for them.

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I guess an easy thing when I look back on is I keep track of test scores from students. I'll say this many A's and this many B's, and I keep track of it from year-to-year. And the test scores from before we started to after we started at least a year in, until I got my footing, the test scores have gone up.

And then as I incorporate more and more stuff each year and more websites come out and more activities come out that I can incorporate, I think the test scores come up. The kids are doing better on tests, at least the ones the ones that-- I mean, you always have those that choose not to.


And it seems to retain the information better too. It stays with them.